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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Conservative Idealism

Mr Andrew Sullivan, the popular Anglo-American blogger, has posted another small cri-de-cœur in favour of the retreat of US power which he calls hegemony. He makes a good case. The interventionists do sound like sad nostalgics by his account. How hard it is for them to give up the assurances they know so well, the standard operating procedure inbred over a half-century of world leadership…

Talleyrand worries that this will become the dominant view of the cognoscenti. For it is no less nostalgic, even romantic, about the use and responsibility of power. For all his sense of timing and fashion, Mr Sullivan sounds like a classic little Englander suffering from a higher form of knownothingism. It may not be fair to ask, but the reader wonders:  to how many lands has he been? How many languages does he know? How much of the world, splendid window vistas notwithstanding, has he seen beyond what lies directly in front of his nose?

These things matter because he writes from the capital of the country which still runs the world’s biggest economy, has the biggest army, the world’s lingua franca, the legal, institutional, scientific, and educational infrastructure and human capital upon which much of the world still depends, the most to contribute to keeping the world as safe and as orderly as it can be, and the most at stake. There is more to that world that ‘troops on the ground’; there is more to it than slogans and admonitions. The world, the ‘real world’, as sceptical, self-identifying conservatives like to say, is not so divisible. It is not so far away, across wide channels or vast oceans. It is here; we are in it. All of us.

Mr Sullivan should read more history. He is correct; America is no longer a super-power. But it ought to be, and behave, like a great power. For its sake and the world’s, its polemicists should end their theoretical debates over whether or not it should wield its significant power, and instead educate themselves in the best ways to wield it in collaboration with others, and realise, after having been so fortunate as to be on the winning side of three world wars, that just walking away from its global responsibilities now is not an option. Indeed it as dangerous and delusional in the longer term as knee-jerk interventionism may be more immediately.

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